Home > Reviews > 2011 Nissan Versa 1.8 SL

2011 Nissan Versa 1.8 SL

Best If Used By 2007

      The little Versa washed up on our shores back in 2006 as an ‘07 model looking pretty much like the same car you see here. But dig into history a bit and you will find that the Versa first went on sale in Japan in 2004. The little Nissan has gone by the aliases Tiida, Tiida Latio, Latio, Versa and the Dodge Trazo. It has been sold in Japan, Latin American, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Canada, a select smattering of European countries, and likely a few more places we just don’t have the space here to list. So to say this car is getting a bit long in the tooth is a bit of an understatement. Nevertheless, when the Versa showed up in the AT Garage we had a road trip assignment ready for it.
      Design Editor Gernand and I had a marathon to run the first weekend the Versa showed up and we needed a ride to Akron, OH. Now normally we would try to line up a far more entertaining car for a road trip like this, but as we were going to be traveling through the most boring state in the Union, we found it oddly ideal for the task. Besides, after running 26.2 miles, an automatic transmission for the ride home sounded like a good idea.
      During the five hours of droning about on Ohio’s turnpikes (at a slow 65-mph!) we found a few of our admittedly low expectations being exceeded. The seat fabric was of a generally plush and durable grade, yet was surprisingly comfortable, and the armrests were among the squishiest we have ever experienced! Both welcome attributes considering the price category this car competes in.
      But other than that Nissan needs to hit the refresh button in a hurry! There is no other word for the exterior styling but boring (the Brilliant Silver paint didn’t help either). Overlarge headlamps outweigh any other styling point on the car and seemingly dwarf the 15” alloy wheels. It’s clear the Versa was originally designed as a tall hatchback and whacking the cargo hold off the back to make it a true sedan for the US market has resulted in an awkwardly tall and stubby profile. There are a few “style” lines cut into the body at the base of the doors, the front and rear bumpers and the hood, but they don’t come close to off-setting the rest of the yawn-inducing features, such as the side mirrors and uninspired taillamps.
      Sadly much of this translates directly into the interior. The dash is a rather dull expanse of black plastic broken only by appliqués of faux wood trim that Gernand swore was out of a 1986 Pontiac Bonneville. The same fabric that covers the seats covers much of the door skins, which doesn’t do anything to enliven the ambiance. The switchgear fell to hand naturally, but the HVAC knobs had a very clunky feeling operation. Relocating seat control levers to the inboard positions made seeing which position you’re about to adjust easier, and probably freed up a good inch of room for added seat width, but also cluttered the center console. The shifter is tall, the gauges are simple, and the tiny screen Nav system is a $610 option to skip over (Note to Nissan: unmarked squiggly lines do not help decipher which road to take).
      The $650 Convenience package is, however, a recommended buy. This adds a keyless entry and ignition system, Bluetooth, auxiliary audio controls and a leather wrapped steering wheel. If for nothing else you need to check the box for the leather wrapped steering wheel. There aren’t too many forgiving surfaces in this car, but the worst ones can be overlooked if the one thing that you interact with the most is a pleasure to use. Nissan’s Bluetooth integration is as good as always, among the easiest on the market in terms of use; but the keyless ignition made for some drama. For whatever reason we kept forgetting who had the key with all the trips to the car to fetch baby accessories, running shoes, etc. It is a nifty feature, but for a sub-$20K compact it seems like the $4.32 (I made that figure up by the way) they spent on the transponder could have been put to better use hushing the tick up by the A-pillar, the rattle we heard from somewhere behind the HVAC head unit, or the over sensitive low coolant light.
      One thing the Versa does have going for it is volume. The tall profile affords plenty of head room while the lack of tumble home made for a less compromising width. The seating arrangement is fairly upright, like a small crossover, which made for a more accommodating rear seat, especially for my son’s rear facing car seat. Even without the extra cargo hauling capability of the hatchback we were able to stow luggage for three adults and one baby for the marathon weekend (two pairs of running shoes don’t take up near the room that a Pack-and-Play does).
      Aside from the awkwardly tall profile catching a great deal of crosswind, the car was an easy drive. Sure there was little to be had in terms of communication from the steering, brakes or throttle, but they all worked as expected. Motoring through downtown Akron was a breeze due to its compact size. The 1.8-liter I4 produces a paltry 122 hp and 127 lb-ft of torque. Sure it moves the car, but merging and passing on the expressway required some planning. It didn’t help that this asthmatic motor was paired to an archaic 4-speed automatic. We averaged 30.8 mpg on the trip and just a tick under 30 mpg for the overall time we had the car in the fleet. Five years ago we would have praised this car for its frugality, but when a Hyundai Sonata (a midsize sedan weighing 3,199-lbs) will return 32 mpg after being driven by yours truly, we just can’t help but wonder what this little car would do with the modern direct-injected engine and 6-speed transmission it deserves.
      Despite the noted shortcomings, Nissan is still clearing plenty of Versas from dealer lots. According to Cars.com, Nissan moved 6,724 of these stale little saltine crackers in November. For comparison Ford was only able to sell 3,473 copies of the new-for-2011 Fiesta. If you view the automobile as merely an appliance for getting from point A to point B reliably, then perhaps you won’t find it hard to cough up the $18,685 for the car you see pictured here. But as for the editors of Automotive Trends, we will continue shopping around for something that hasn’t passed its sell by date.

The Good:
Lots of headroom, soft armrests, comfortable seats, good stereo sound quality.
The Bad:
Styling is almost coma inducing, archaic 4-speed automatic, only achieves 30-mpg. 
The Verdict:
The Versa is well past its sell by date and the competition keeps getting fresher.

Photos by Jason Muxlow

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  1. Jim
    December 20th, 2010 at 13:55 | #1

    Are you serious, $18,700 for a Versa sedan? Don’t they start under $10k? What’s were the options on your tester? Automatic + nav + convenience pkg + ??

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